THE pressure on Manchester City to stay in the title race is mounting and they simply must beat Tottenham on Sunday and Swansea the following Sunday to maintain their excellent home form – then turn their attention to winning away from The Etihad. City face successive away matches, at West Bromwich Albion and Southampton in the space of four days in the first week of December. Another defeat in either of these fixtures – they have lost four times already on their travels – will be a near-fatal blow to their hopes of winning the Premier League for a second time in three seasons. City, who have a five-win 100 per cent home record, simply have to get their act together on their travels and, to do so, they must learn how to cope in the absence of talisman centre-back Vincent Kompany.
The Belgian has become more and more conspicuous by his absence as City manager Manuel Pellegrini’s various selections have failed to produce an answer to the team’s lapses at the back. The Blues are fabulous to watch when surging forward on their home ground, mesmerising the opposition with their midfield artistry and banging in the goals for fun. But no team ever won the marathon that is the League Championship by delivering the goods at home and not turning up when in other teams’ back yards. City have scored 20 goals in five home league matches, conceding just two. Away, they have struck only eight times in six outings and let in 10. They have to come up with the answer soon, for Kompany’s injury problems appear to be worse than originally thought and I am sure Pellegrini will have already targeted another central defender in the January transfer window. Meantime, those wonderful City fans must pray that their team maintains its awesome home form with another victory, this time against a strong, functional-looking Tottenham, who appear to have sacrificed their flair with the sale of Gareth Bale. City are fortunate to still be in touch with the top, thanks to other title contenders suffering mixed results. They will know they cannot count on that remaining the case.
GOOD luck to Oldham Athletic on their long trip to Gillingham tomorrow. My former charges have had a rough ride in League One, producing good performances but poor results and struggling to hit the net. But the 5-1 Johnstone’s Paint Trophy win last week has, hopefully, lifted a cloud from the strikers’ heads. Manager Lee Johnson seems to me to be the type of young man to stick to his principle of playing attractive football. I hope for his, and the club’s, sake his philosophy starts to pay dividends.